In 1980, John and Kitty Anderson came across an original plan by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown for the landscape surrounding Kirkharle, the place of his birth. This was most likely to have been drawn when Brown stayed with Lady Loraine of Kirkharle Hall in 1760 although it was not implemented at that time.
Kitty tells us "By 2005, Kirkharle Courtyard had become established as a small but flourishing visitor centre with ‘Capability’ Brown as its unique selling point – this seemed the right time to realise his vision. So we began the long process of seeking permission and funding and on 18th August 2009 excavation work began. When Brown designed the lake for Kirkharle, it is clear that he envisaged a very long, serpentine body of water. Unfortunately the main road from Newcastle to Edinburgh, installed in 1833, dissected the original area of land so this caused us to make a much shorter lake. Due to the difficulty of water levels, we had initially to create two bodies of water separated by a neck of land that had every appearance of being two ponds. In 2010 we installed a 1km fully accessible pathway and planted 74 large trees and 2000 whips.
In this 300th anniversary year we have undertaken further excavation works to widen the western lake, reshape the ends of both, install edging and create a cascade between the 2 ponds rather than just having a plug hole and underground pipe. These works combined have had a transforming effect on the appearance of the lake; albeit an illusion. It really does seem that a river is running through the length of the lake. The landscaping work is still to be finished. It was rather uncanny when the cascade began to trickle on the 30th August – the 300th anniversary, to the day, of Brown’s baptism in nearby St. Wilfrid’s church. Kirkharle is one of the few Brown landscapes that can be seen as Brown himself would have seen them immediately after their creation, newly installed and still immature.
Throughout this very special year Kirkharle Courtyard has seen a significant increase in visitors, both individually, as booked groups and school groups. Over 3000 people have taken part in one of our 'Capability' Brown themed activities. This increased demand has necessitated the use of volunteer guides from the local community, hosting group visits and laying on and organising entertainment ranging from solo singers to a jazz band and one man show, guided walks, Service of Thanksgiving amongst many other things. All these activities have drawn in a wider range of visitors who have not only enjoyed the visual attraction of the lake and parkland, but just as importantly has led to a far greater appreciation of ‘Capability’ Brown as a landscape designer and the influence he has extended down through the ages on our countryside."
About the Author: Kitty Anderson, Kirkharle.